An Experiment in Integrating Critical Theory and Clinical Education
Margaret Ellen Johnson
University of Baltimore - School of Law
Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, Vol. 13, p. 161, 2005
Critical theory is important in live-client clinical teaching as a means to achieve the pedagogical goals of clinical education. Feminist legal theory, critical race theory, and poverty law theory serve as useful frameworks to enable students to deconstruct assumptions they, persons within institutions, and broader society make about the students' clients and their lives. Critical theory highlights the importance of looking for both the "obvious and non-obvious relationships of domination." Thus, critical theory informs students of the presence and importance of alternative voices that challenge the dominant discourse. When student attorneys ignore or are unaware of such voices, other voices invisibly influence the lawyer-client relationship and lawyering activities, such as interviewing, case theory generation, fact investigation, strategic planning, counseling, and problem-solving.
Critical theory also has a value in transmitting a structured and systemic critique "of law, legal institutions, and lawyering."
This Article discusses the way in which the Women and the Law Clinic and the Domestic Violence Clinic at the Washington College of Law at American University have attempted to incorporate feminist legal theory, critical race theory, and poverty law theory into our jointly-run seminar in order to further the clinics' pedagogical goals. Our effort began with identifying feminist and other critical legal theories that resonate with the lives of our clinics' clients, their legal and non-legal issues, and the lawyering skills and values we teach. Next, we created a simulated fact pattern that is intended to highlight the theoretical issues we want to teach. Finally, we selected scholarly readings that discuss the theoretical concepts, and assign them to be read in preparation for the lecture and simulation exercise classes that we believe provide the best context in which to discuss the theory. This Article sets forth details of this ongoing project and explores the impact that infusion of critical theory in every aspect of the clinic has had on achievement of our pedagogical goals.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 25
Keywords: clinical education, feminist legal theory, critical race theory, poverty law theory, lawyering skills, law school education
JEL Classification: K19, K39
Date posted: January 22, 2009